An iterative approach, Agile helps software development teams deliver value to their customers faster and with fewer headaches – rather than focusing on hyper-accurate documentation and strict processes, agile is a democratic, people focused, market first approach, where the development team decides what methodology(ies) to use in order to tackle the next set of challenges without crashing in the process.
Agile relies heavily on constant, transparent collaboration and communication between customers, project managers and engineers in order to respond and adjust quickly to change without disrupting the any work or plan.
So, what happens when you’re working with remote or distributed teams in different time zones? How do you leverage Agile to deliver continuously?
Agile + Offshore Software Development
Traditional approaches to offshore development are based on plan-driven methodologies, heavy process and documentation to better mitigate risks. The fundamental question is can agile be used in an offshore setting?
There are some ways to make Agile work in an offshore environment:
Embed a business liaison. One of the advantages of having a business oriented liaison is that it helps provide context to the offshore team. By just following a list of requirements without understanding the context or its importance, developers might miss opportunities to raise their hands and ask critical questions that might lead to an ‘aha’ moment.
Cultural differences. In addition to the language barriers, many eastern (and western) companies operate with a command-and-control-style of management, which relies on rules like these:
I’m the manager, so I make the rules
Your job is to do what I say
If you don’t hear from me, that means you’re doing fine
In this environment, people are discouraged from asking critical questions or proposing alternatives to approaching a problem. Agile needs the collaboration of the entire team, not just a few managers calling all the shots. Empowerment is key and it make take some time to overcome the cultural realities faced by offshoring companies, however, once people realize the have the trust, freedom and responsibility, they’re motivation goes through the roof.
Expect more documentation. Although documentation is important, Agile puts more value in collaboration and human interaction. When working with offshore teams, you need to invest time and effort in creating solid requirements, documentation and active collaboration tools (e.g. wikis, issue tracking tools, etc.) in order to mitigate communication risks.
As you can see, some of the weak spots to offshore development come from culture, distance and total cost of engagement. Because Agile works best with face-to-face interactions and close collaboration between project stakeholders, agile practitioners may find it hard to adapt vs. those using plan-driven approaches.
Agile + Nearshore Software Development
Having offshore teams is a solid approach for enterprise companies that need round the clock software development to reduce time to market and can afford the resources to invest in managing distributed teams. However, small and midsize companies can find it hard to absorb the Total Cost of Engagement of offshore development.
Some of those companies are starting to look down south and have partnered with software development companies in Mexico. Right off the bat, there are some clear advantages that impact productivity and faster time to market.
- Cultural alignment. Agile promotes critical thinking and active participation from team members. Mexican engineers won’t be afraid to ask questions and raise their hand when they come across a potential problem.
- Face-to-face interactions. When working with a mexican remote team, face to face meetings can have a couple of days notice. For example, a flight from Monterrey to Los Angeles is about 3 hours long
- Time zone. Forget about late night conference calls. Collaboration is made easier as some cities in Mexico share time zones with the U.S.
- Bilingual. Mexican engineers are fully bilingual and can easily pick-up the context and tone of a conversation with their U.S. counterparts.
Sounds good right? But wait, there’s an even better alternative.
Tijuana, the not so new frontier
TIjuana?! Yes, you’re reading that right, Tijuana. The city is well known as being the party central for young adults. Chances are if you ask someone about Tijuana, they’re response will be tequila and tacos. But there’s a completely different side to Tijuana that people are starting to notice.
Over the past 20 years, Tijuana has shifted from a maquiladora and low-cost workforce, to an innovation hub that houses high-technology companies (both national and international) and employs thousands of high-skilled professionals. Here are some quick facts:
The Tijuana is South San Diego. The San Diego-Tijuana economy is estimated to be worth $230 billion dollars.
It is the busiest land border crossing with approximately 120,000 vehicles, 63,000 pedestrians and 6,000 trucks crossing the border daily.
Commercial exchange between Tijuana and San Diego is valued at $2.1 million daily.
Tijuana has transitioned from manufacturing to R&D. Companies like Samsung, Plantronics, Cubic Corporation, CareFusion (BD) are just a few examples.
Why it makes sense to do agile software development in Tijuana?
Tijuana’s proximity to San Diego is a key factor. Again, Agile is all about collaboration and human interaction over excessive planning, processes and documentation. Thermo-Fisher Scientific, a $17 billion dollar company chose Tijuana to house its software engineering center because of this.
We looked at southeast Asia, we looked at eastern Europe, but Tijuana’s proximity to the Carlsbad office was a powerful draw, allowing the possibility of face-to-face meetings between the U.S. and Mexican engineers and the ability to work in the same time zone.
Mark Field // Thermo-Fisher Scientific CTO
When comparing other ‘nearshore’ locations, keep in mind the following:
- Truly bicultural and bilingual. While growing up, I used to watch WWE, The X-Files, Seinfeld and Married with Children. It was part of our weekend routine to cross the border and shop for groceries and clothing in outlet malls in San Diego. This is true for a vast majority of people that live in Tijuana (we are literally an extension of San Diego). If you live or stayed in San Diego, there’s a good chance you’ve talked to someone that grew up in Tijuana.
- Border infrastructure. The wait times have been drastically reduced to 1.5 - 2 hours max to cross from Tijuana to San Diego using a vehicle. If you have a Global Entry pass, the time goes down to just a couple of minutes. Oh, and did we mentioned we have the only binational airport crossing in the world?
- Face-to-face interactions. This can happen on day’s notice. Your team can drive up to San Diego or Los Angeles or vice-versa and be back for dinner or tacos.
- Large talent pool. The state of Baja California produces on average 4,000 engineering graduates per year. There is a large talent pool of senior software engineers that are not only highly skilled, but that understand context.
A new paradigm for agile software outsourcing
At Framework Science we focus on human interaction. We work and attract the best engineers in the region. Instead of depending on traditional recruitment techniques, we use a mix of Artificial Intelligence with Google Hire and Senior Engineers to interview and filter out candidates that fit our culture and mindset of exploration and innovation.
By attracting senior talent and investing in a democratic workspace, collaboration goes through the roof, making it easier to solve complex engineering problems.